Thursday, January 6, 2011

DnD: The Naysayers

Nobody really knows precisely how long the Naysayers have been around.  They probably can trace their origins back any of a dozen among several hundred minor thief gangs that have sprung up and faded away within Leoden, but it is known that they came to control the Thieves Gate around twenty summers past.  Previous to that summer the Thieves Gate had been run by a gang referred to as the Joykills.  However, on Midsummer's Night, the windows and spaces under doors and the cracks between stones and boards were all seen to shoot out a bright sickly green light.  The light lasted for several hours, and nobody dared approach the building.  Nothing could be heard within.  The next morning, nothing, not a single living person could be found within the Thieves Gate. 
The Naysayers moved in before anyone else was willing to, and have been there ever since. 
The leader of the Naysayers is a human named Thome d'Arg.  Thome is tall, and rail thin, with a severe scar running over his eye and down past his lips.  (People debate whether the eye is real or not; it looks real enough but most people are not willing to ask.)  His hair is a dark, coal black, and he is always seen playing with a long, slim, expertly made dagger.
How many Naysayers there actually are in the city is hard to say, but those who care for such things estimate that there can be no more than twenty or thirty.

The Greatest Album Of All Time.

I spent like around eighty minutes writing this to post elsewhere, so figured I would post it here, just for a sense of completeness: 

Have the day off, since I'm working Saturday, so have been sitting around doing nothing, surfing the internet listening to the Beatles. Listened to all of Revolver and Sgt. Pepper straight through, among other stuff.
I can definitely see the appeal of Revolver as a choice for best Beatles album, especially if one prefers earlier Beatles. It's definitely the best record the Beatles had produced up until that point. Sure, none of the songs are bad, but none of the Beatles songs are really ever bad (well, maybe some of the later avant garde stuff). It's that all of the songs are really, really good (except Dr. Robert), and some are among the finest works of recording art ever produced. Taxman. Eleanor Rigby. For No One. Tomorrow Never Knows.
But I still think Sgt. Pepper is just ultimately a better work of Art. I already mentioned its sense of continuity, which Revolver lacks. Perhaps it's just that I am resistant to proclaiming Revolver the best, just because I feel it's so interchangeable with their earlier stuff. Really, it was! Revolver was released in the U.S. with track on it from Rubber Soul. Sgt. Pepper was the first record that was significant and defined enough that the songs on it could not be split up and repackaged on their way across the Atlantic. Sonically, it was just too different, the real inauguration of "later Beatles." I feel that the greatest record off all time should have been more clearly recognized as such in it's own time, as Sgt. Pepper was.
Which of course is part of the problem, I think. Sgt. Pepper was so immediately hailed as a work of genius, the beginning of Albums as Artistic Works that people don't want to think that it really could be the best of all time. That reputation is stifling, somehow, but of what I don't know.
For my part, Sgt. Pepper was both the first Beatles record and first CD I ever got (and for Christmas, natch). So I am probably just as biased as anyone else, since Pepper has certain nostalgic underpinnings for me. But a part of me suspects that, though nostalgia may have some impact, my early acquaintance with the album may also have shielded me from the backlash, allowed me to be free to see it on its own merits, and not in terms of whether it really is the "Best" or not.
People talk about the weird production on the songs, but I don't really understand where that comes from. Most of the sonic experimentation seems pretty effective and often unnoticeable, like how they raised Paul's voice on When I'm Sixty Four. The standard arrangement of most of the songs on the album is still the rock music staples of guitars, bass (this is truly an excellent bass guitar album), drums and piano. Some songs include, say, harpsichord, or eastern instruments, or string backings, but all of that stuff started appearing much, much earlier—the strings as early as Help!, the eastern instruments and harpsichords or whatever are on Rubber Soul. And really, there isn't a single song on Sgt. Pepper that is as sonically experimental as Tomorrow Never Knows. The only really significant change on this one is that they brought in a full orchestra for a couple of songs, but I don't really see how that can be that much of a knock on the album, given that the main orchestral song is A Day in the Life, which no one has anything bad to say about.
I think what really sets Sgt. Pepper apart is not the production—although it is quite complex, and many of the recording and arrangement techniques that popped as gimmicks on the earlier records (like the sitar) are now merely parts in a larger canvas—but the incredible depth of the songs. Earlier albums, even Revolver had a surplus of songs that just amount to "silly love songs." Though to Revolver this is too a much lesser extent, there are still songs like, Here, There, and Everywhere, Got To Get you Into My Life, or I Want To Tell You.
Sgt. Pepper, on the hand, while it often touches upon love themes, gives most of it's songs over more esoteric considerations. Probably the two songs closest to being straight love songs are When I'm Sixty Four and Lovely Rita. But When I'm Sixty Four is as much about aging and mortality and the fear of loneliness as anything, and Lovely Rita is almost an anti-love song: you can see edges of darker impulses creeping into the lyrics. On top of that, there is a certain level of craft, of actual poetry in the lyrics, like John and Paul's songwriting had advanced several levels between albums. Can anyone name a couplet as evocative as "What do you see when you turn out the light?/ I can't tell you but I know it's mine"? on Revolver? Or how about "Newspaper taxis appear on the shore, waiting to take you away"? Probably the least lyrically complex song on the album is Being for the Benefit of Mister Kite, which a piece of found art (all the lyrics are adapted from an old poster John bought) who's ambiguity and mood are like a kind of musical Rorschach Test. This is a very, very sharply focused set of songs, and they all work flawlessly together.
When I listen to Revolver, I feel like I am listening to the work of excellent, excellent pop songwriters, better songwriters than have ever worked on Tin Pan Alley or for Motown. When I listen to Sgt. Pepper, I feel like I am listening to songs with just as high a level of songcraft, but with the literary heft that, say, a Dylan brings to his work, and with the musical arrangements to match that complexity.